Religious Beliefs

What are some basic Hindu ethical considerations?

Hindu tradition describes a range of morally and religiously acceptable goals or motives for action. What matters most is not the substance of the particular type of goal, but the quality of one’s intentions. All good things in life are gifts of God. One has only to learn how best to use and value them. In the greater scheme of things, three of the four major goals are means rather than ends in themselves. Even so, a devout Hindu can pursue them with vigor and determination, as long as the pursuit is balanced and not obsessive. Most fundamental is the goal of dharma, the quest for one’s own individual ethical calling in accord with the cosmic Law that holds all things together. Personal justice and righteousness are the cardinal virtues. But wealth, material success, power, and social status (artha) are also worthy goals, so long as one keeps them in perspective. People who use their worldly success in ethically laudable ways are exercising responsible stewardship and can make wonderful things happen for the benefit of many.

In addition, a devout Hindu can enjoy to the full all of life’s legitimate pleasures (kama) associated with culture, the arts, sexuality, and family life. This traditional teaching undercuts the common stereotype of Hinduism as world-rejecting and self-denying asceticism. On the other hand, the opposite stereotype that identifies Hinduism as the kind of wild-eyed lust sometimes associated with the Kama Sutra is equally inappropriate. Ultimately, Hindu tradition teaches, the sincere seeker will find that none of the first three goals offers permanent satisfaction. What remains is the quest for final liberation from the enslavement that goes with even well-moderated attachments. Moksha, meaning “release,” is the only goal worthy of being considered an end in itself. Most people will spend many lifetimes striving for it.


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